The conclusion of our adventure on the Ring Road in Iceland.
Get caught up on the first half of our Icelandic road trip here.
The path up the Eastern coast had some precarious gravel roads that led us through the largest national “forest” of Iceland, which had like 12 trees. We continued to pass by glaciers, waterfalls, coastlines, volcanoes, you name it!
We found an unexpected hike to see Iceland’s third highest waterfall, Hengifoss. It ended up being a treacherous uphill and slippery battle lasting a mile or so! I love when the cardio of the day involves waterfalls 🙂
Further north we stopped for the night and camped overlooking the silhouette of mountains over a valley. It was the first time we were able to see the sky, and only then in patches; the rain was finally clearing up. We had lost hope of seeing the Northern Lights until that point, praying ever so severely to have the chance. I shut off the car, casually glanced outside, and to my delight saw a glow stretching across the entire night sky.
Screaming like a child on Christmas morning, I scrambled to gather my shoes and warm clothes (which of course I could find neither), haphazardly putting on whatever scraps of sweater I could get my hands on, and fell out of the car to witness a miracle. The Aurora Borealis had arrived.
It’s hard to even put into words what we saw. You can’t accurately capture it on film, you can’t describe it to its full beauty. It’s eerie and mystical and wonderful. More than a bucket list item, more than any man-made object. I remember the first time I felt truly awestruck was when I saw the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but this feeling was different. I’ll share more on the lights later I’m sure, but for now just enjoy this picture:
“The Dark Fortress”
We went next to my favorite place in Iceland, Dimmuborgir. Besides being the area where they filmed the wildlings’ camp in Game of Thrones, it is teeming with Icelandic folklore. We arrived early enough that we basically had it to ourselves to explore the towering volcanic rock fields and breathtaking Fall colors. There were a number of winding walking paths in varying lengths, and I recommend taking time to roam a bit. Maybe you’ll even see the Yule Lads 🙂
The north was amazing! We drove past Lake Mývatn and the surrounding steaming fields until we reached the unofficial capital of the north, Akureyri. Naturally we found a delicious bakery and dove into a mountain of pastries and coffee.
We wandered around, hung out with some trolls and explored the most northern botanical garden in the world. It would have been neat to spend the night near the city but was too early to stop for the day so we kept going after feeling rested and refreshed.
I was super excited to find a town a few miles off Route 1 called Glaumbær. Unfortunately the museum there had closed a few minutes before we arrived, but we got to walk around the cute grass-covered homes a little bit. Get there before 5!
We were almost done with the Ring Road at that point, so we camped around a town called Borgarnes and found a super secret private black sand beach to watch the Northern Lights for a second time. It was an even better show than before!
We also found a little “hot pot” hotspring overlooking mountains and got to relax for a few minutes in the fragrant sulfur water.
South Iceland – Take Two
We had now come full circle! We decided to redo some of the south we’d passed over the first time because of the rain. There was an abandoned Navy plane called Sólheimasandur that had crash landed on a black sand beach and we walked the 4km each way to check that out.
It was really cool but hard to get a good picture because of some obnoxious tourists (don’t worry – I’m venting about that in a future post 🙂 ). After walking back we found a “secret” hot spring and soaked before continuing to Vik for a second time.
The south gave us a much better experience the second go-round! We enjoyed a sunset over the beach and got to camp out, using our tent for the second time of the entire week – finally stretching out our legs. It felt like royalty finding showers and being able to do much-needed laundry. We got to meet some fellow travelers and all pitched in food for an impromptu potluck.
The Golden Circle
I know the Golden Circle is a very popular destination in Iceland, so since we were still trying to kill some time we figured we’d see what all the hype was about. I understand if you have limited time and this day trip offers a bit of everything – going through Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Godafoss. But because we had seen so much before this we were pretty disappointed.
It was crowded and touristy and a little underwhelming. There are far superior spots to see if you’re willing to explore. But I guess we were spoiled from driving the Ring Road!
All In All
I don’t regret missing the Blue Lagoon or Godafoss, the main waterfall in the Golden Circle. We swam in natural hot springs and saw enough waterfalls throughout the country to get our fix. I think we found the right balance of seeing popular spots and getting off the beaten path while avoiding the crowds as best we could.
We felt like crap sometimes being unshowered, sleeping in the car, and taking leaks in the wilderness, but it was all so worth it. It would hit me sometimes where we were and what we were doing and I would just be hit with this wave of glee and gratitude.
I could’ve spent weeks driving around Iceland, the land of fire and ice – months even. But I think this was a week well spent.
What about you? Do you recommend seeing anything on the Ring Road?
Did you stumble upon anything unexpected? Any road trip plans in the future?